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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Catch Me if You Can


Now that the ground in my pasture has finally dried out enough not to be slippery I’ve been thinking it’s time to get back to riding Willow.  Which I haven’t done in over a year.  Ahem.  The most I’ve done with him since we sold the farm in March of 2012 and life got crazy is to catch him up and groom him a few times.  I do make time to inspect and hang out with him twice a day at feeding, but all in all I’ve not been a very involved horse mom.  He’s had the basics, all the grainand clean water  he needs and free choice hay 24/7, as well as living out in the field with a lovely new turnout shed which he shares with his Goaty Girls.   I’ve kept up to date on his shots, worming and foot care of course, but other than that, Willow’s been on vacation.   Apparently, he’s decided it’s a good way to live. 

Willow’s always been spooky about people on the ground, although he’s pretty trusting of me.  Still, sometimes he gets a goofy streak and spooks away.  Last month, for the first time, I couldn’t get off work to be here when my barefoot trimmer Marilyn Gilligan---who’s been doing him for the entire seven years I’ve had him---couldn’t catch him, and she’s a wizard with horses.  I was mortified and vowed to never not be available again.  I didn’t  really  think anymore about it, but apparently some kind of precedent was set. 

I gave Willow and the girls some tomato and carrot pieces that I’d saved from salads and then went to get the halter.  Willow, for the first time, took one look at the halter and scooted off.  I sighed, picked it up and followed.  I’ve never had to approach him more than twice to catch him, and even that has been rare.  This was clearly a whole nother ball game as he didn’t even consider waiting for me as he spurted away.  I thought, Hmmm.  He’s having too much fun with this and mentally gave up my plans for the day and settled myself to seeing this through to the bitter end.   I was awfully glad the pasture isn’t much more than an acre!  “Trot on!” I told him, since he was clearly going to do that anyway.   When he’d slow for a breather,  “Trot on!”  Ready for a little rest?  ”Trot on!”  Round and round we went, him galloping gaily and showing off for the girls, me following at a purposeful walk.  Soon I realized I needed to be sending him forward, as opposed to heading him off, and dropped back to his hip and trained my eye on him steadily.   An interesting thing was that after ten minutes or so, when the novelty of cantering away from me had worn off, he came down to a forward trot in a lunging type circle around me, instead of using the whole field as he had been.   I don’t know what was in his head on the free-lunging style he adopted, since I tried verbally halting him, and he ignored that.  I worked him for another twenty minutes or so, by which time his canter had slowed to a trot, the trot to a jog, and the jog to a walk with pauses, when he’d get ahead of me.   As he tired I’d try halting him every five minutes or so, and when he stopped I’d stop too and take my eye off him, releasing the pressure.  Praise and a minute’s rest, and then walk slowly toward him, eyes and energy dialed down.  The first few times I got to that point, he’d gather himself and trot away, causing me to  send him forward again.  “Trot on!”   Lather, rinse, repeat…  I tried to make it clear that he was only sent forward if he had already moved away.  By this time he was hot and sweaty nearly all over, with foam between his legs.  He hadn’t worked so hard since he was in combined driving training, five years ago.  When he finally did give up and suffered me to walk up to him, it was not by facing forward to me.  I know that is extremely controversial and I’m sure a professional would have required him to face them.  But I know my horse, and I fully believe you could beat him to death and he’d never kick.  Some horses are just like that, but you’d better know who you’re dealing with, and without years of personal knowledge of this particular horse, I’d never have approached one  in this situation from the rear.  He quivered when I put my hand on his wet flank, but I stroked it and spoke softly and keeping my fingers in constant contact with his skin,, moved up his side to his shoulder.    I rubbed his neck, still talking nonsense, “silly boy, goofy horse…”.   Willow finally lowered his head from its stiff, giraffe-like pose, and put it on my chest with a sigh.  He made no objection to me haltering him, he almost seemed relieved, as he stood with his nostrils distended and flaring with each breath.  I took him out of the field and up to the yard for a bath.   After that, we went down the driveway to a grassy spot to graze, hopefully to reinforce that being caught was a good thing. 


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Busy As a ...

The engineering applied to this rodential (is that even a word?) project just blows me away.
The beavers around here have been living up to their reputation lately!
I've been keeping an eye on their progress with this fairly good-sized tree, on my daily walks.  Isn't it amazing?
IMAG0225.jpgHere's a close view of the finished product of all that labor.  Now, what are they going to do with it?  I mean, how do the beaver figure to move a tree this size?  Will they gnaw it up into "manageable" sections?  And what is a manageable section for a sixty-pound beaver anyway?  Inquiring minds want to know!

IMAG0229.jpgAren't the beaver toothmarks fascinating?

IMAG0234.jpgI think it must be beaver heaven here, with twenty-five acres of lake and this beautiful swamp to build their lodges in.  Occasionally I've seen beavers towing branches and much smaller trees all the way across the lake to the man-made dam at the bottom.  They industriously pile their woodwork against the giant wooden dam and concrete spillway in a neverending quest to make it bigger.  Then we rake it off, as the weight of the accumulated wood and mud they work into it is very bad for the structure of the dam itself.  It's only designed to hold back the weight of the water, not a world of mud and sticks as well.  I can't help feeling a little sorry for the beavers, working so hard for no return.  However, they're still quite free to dam up all the little branches that empty into the lake along the shoreline, and they do that to their hearts content.  

I wish I had a blogging tutor so I could learn how to arrange these posts the way I see them in my mind!  Apologies for the randomness.   

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Manners are so Important

 IMAG1542.jpgWillow: See, Stacy this is how I keep my feet so pretty.

A polite horse has always been one of the most important things, as a horse person, for me.  Especially the last few years when my under-saddle time has been extremely limited.  We may not be proficient in the ring, but by golly, we’re good in hand.
 I don’t like being pulled around and dragged from one tantalizing tuft of grass to the other, so I used to handle my horses in a plain flat halter with a chain over the nose.   You never saw rope halters back then, your choices were only flat leather or nylon.   I know that sounds harsh, but in fact I had a very light hand with it.  As long as the horse was polite and reasonably attentive to my personal space, he hardly got touched.  Pulling me would result in a sharp, moderate snap on the shank.  Just one,  paired with  a spoken correction.   I habitually kept my horses like this for a couple of years or as long as it took til I was sure politeness had become ingrained.  These days rope halters are popular, and I see why.  Mine has an extra knot on each side or the bridge of the horse’s nose, and I fit it snugly, but not tight.  A  10-foot rope shank completes the ensemble.  I’m so glad not to have to fool around with the chain anymore, life is so much simpler!  I keep Willow on a loose line most of the time and I have to say, he’s mostly very good.  I value my professionals, vet and barefoot trimmer, and I know they appreciate a calm, quiet, unmoving horse.
IMAG1537.jpg The Goaty Girls were fascinated.
  At this point, Willow only has two blots on his resume.  He’s still a little leery of the vet, especially when he sees that needle  coming at him.  So a week before I know she’s coming for annual shots and Coggins I start preparing him.  While he’s eating I pick up any little twig and start patting his neck like prepping it for a shot.  At first this results in bug-eyes and pulling back, but I stay with him til he stops, and then I quit and give him some space.  I’ll do it again until he at least accepts a slightly more forceful pat and leave it til the next meal.  I gradually work up to a pretty solid thump and begin touching him with the end of the twig, mimicking a slight prick.  By the end of the week I can do a pretty good imitation  of my vet giving him shots without him more than flicking an ear.  Then I’ll do it while I’ just holding him and he’s not eating, and we’re ready for her. 
 The other thing that I haven’t quite conquered is Willow’s tendency to want to play with me while I hold him for my trimmer.  He stands like a rock for her, as far as his feet, legs and body are concerned which is the most important element.  But he will lick my hands and arms and it’s something I’ve been reluctant to discourage because trust is a big issue with him.  I’m basically glad he feels that comfortable with me as long as there’s no pain for me involved.   As you might guess this does lead to lipping and then a tiny, sly twinkly-eyed pinch.  He’s learned that as long as he’s being a good boy  for the trimmer I won’t correct him.  Sigh.  If I snap the shank fast enough to connect with him he’s going to throw up his head and want to move his body, thus inconveniencing and startling my her.  I value my trimmer highly and one thing I don’t want is to cause her any stress.   To my embarrassment, I’ve been outfoxed.  Or outhorsed.  So I’ve been putting up with it, to Willow’s delight.  He never hurts me, just gives the tiniest pressure  to my arm or coat sleeve.  He doesn’t even use his teeth, just his lips.  The other day I was complaining about it to my trimmer, who’s a wealth of good horse sense and she gave me the cure.  I couldn’t believe how simple it was.  She said,  “well I just stand farther away from them when I hold them.”  A light bulb moment.  Why didn’t I think of that?  I was always taught to stand at the horse’s head for control and I’ve never thought outside that box.  I was almost skeptical about it working for my easily bored gelding, but I moved out to the end of the line, and it was like magic.  He looked at me a couple times, stretched his head toward me, realized he couldn’t reach me, sighed and turned into the Rock of Gibralter.  I learned something from her, and something about him at the same time.  He stepped right up to the plate, in spite of literally having enough rope to hang himself with and became the now 100% perfect horse.  That’s my boy. 
IMAG1813.jpgI guess now it's time to try to teach the GGs some of the rules.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Vicarious Cowgirl


Oh boy oh boy oh boy!  For years now I’ve been following a wonderful blog called “Mugwump Chronicles”.   The lady who writes this, Janet Huntington, is an absolute wealth of good information, and a master of the riveting cliff-hanger story.  Over the years she’s shared tales of some of her trials and tribulations as a “horseaii” struggling to balance her instincts with the desire to be professionally successful at training Reined Cow Horses, as well as bringing us along for the ride with her as she has brought some incredibly difficult horses from pretty well unmanageable to useful treasures.

  Annnyway, she and her trainer, Tim Unzicker of Unzicker Cow Horses have decided to take pity on us rabid fans and hold a  clinic this summer at Tim’s ranch in Montana!   They promise a weekend full of horsemanship, cattle work and trail rides, as well as story-telling, great company and perhaps the odd libation.  (Apparently Corona Light is the beverage of choice, but I’ll bet I can find someone who will enjoy a little Tequila with me!)  It’s open to those who would bring their own horses and want to learn about Reined Cow Horse, and there were a few openings for those who would come horse-less, renting a cow horse from Tim.  Unfortunately for me, those spaces sold out before I even knew about it.  However, there are five openings for “looky loos” to audit the clinic and I got accepted for one of those!  That’s almost as good as getting one of the riding and renting slots, and maybe I’ll make it into one of those next time. 

I am so excited I don’t know whether to go exercise or get my horse out first!  Because I am not going to this fat.  Not. Going. Fat.  That is a promise to you and to myself.  Because I take promises very seriously and never make one I don’t intend to keep, come hell or high water.  Back the first of December I started walking two to three times every week with a girlfriend around the lake at the local park.  It’s only 2.2 miles around, but as she says, just moving is better than not moving.  The last two weeks we’ve upped it to twice around, making a respectable 4.4 mile hike.  And our speed is improving, too.,  But this clinic changes everything.  I will now be walking the park every day that I am not staying at peoples’ houses for pet sitting.  And while I have been fairly seriously trying to eat more healthily (and less) for some months, I believe those guilty desserts are a thing of the past, at least until this clinic.  The clinic gives me a real impetus (like my own health should have!). 

Here’s the address for the clinic information:

Sunday, February 10, 2013

One Way to do it!

Everyone takes their dental hygiene very seriously at our house--
We brush vigorously
And floss after every meal--

And we always brush again before bed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mimi Takes a Big Step

I was off to a cat-sitting visit and as I went out the door to the carport, Mimi strode right out past me.  This was shocking, for two reasons.  One, my dogs are very polite.  They know not to go out the door without permission and they are pretty good about it.  Two, it was Mimi.   Mimi came to us from a supposedly legitimate breeder, but I take leave to doubt it. 

Mimi has several of the classic “puppy-mill” dog characteristics, in fact, they define her.  She doesn’t speak “dog” and seemed to have no concept of how to interact with other dogs when she came home to us  a couple of years ago.  She didn’t mind the other dogs, she just didn’t notice them, or understand what they were trying to say to her.   It was like they didn’t exist in her universe.  She would just walk right over them on the sofa, and their annoyed growls were totally ignored by her.  No reaction to a snarl or snap at all.  Like she was from another planet.  She doesn’t understand dog play, and I don’t think she ever will.  When our little nurse-dog Pepper would inevitably insist on grooming Mimi you could tell she couldn’t stand it and would immediately get up and move out of reach.  I’ve watched her first learn to tolerate a good licking and now her eyes positively glaze over with pleasure as she goes into the “zone”.  Don’t bother calling her if she’s getting a bath from her big sister Pepper. 
Among other things she’s absolutely terrified of strangers.  Some people think that’s an Italian Greyhound thing, but I believe it’s all in how they’re raised.  A dog who was well socialized as a puppy has a much better chance at a good and long life.  It’s hard work to overcome ingrained shyness (just ask me, I know).  Mimi quickly adopted us, but it was well over a year before she would look us in the eye, even for a fraction of a second.  She wanted to be as close to us as possible, but would always keep her head screwed away, like we smelled bad or something.  But she’s one smart little Iggie.  We’ve seen her get up and run to the door, inciting all other couch occupants to do the same, only to meet them on the way, as she doubles back to take the prime spot that she really wanted.  Tell me that’s not smart, creative thinking.  She’s got so much to offer that I’ve tried repeatedly to stretch her comfort zone with the long range goal of being able to travel with her and share her with others without her being a shivering, petrified mess. 
Before I could successfully take Mimi out to meet people I had to get her where car rides weren’t terrifying in themselves.  To that end, Scott and I have been taking her with us to run errands lately as much as possible.  I keep a bag of the very tastiest dog treats (jerky, her special favorite) in the glove box and as soon as we get in the car she gets one.  Scott stays in the car with her while I run the errands, and she gets another treat whenever I return to the car.   Inititally, she was too tense to eat them but we’ve passed that now.  And the last stop of the day is usually McDonald’s or Bojangles or Wendy’s, where she gets her own little lunch.  I know, we spoil them, but sometimes desperate measures are called for, and I’ve found that for me sometimes the best way to short-circuit a dog’s or horse’s habitual panic is through treats.   A plain junior cheeseburger or the meat from a Cajun Filet biscuit are powerful things in a dog’s world.   And today proved it’s working!  I knew she was getting more okay about these little outings because she quit hiding from us when it was time to go out.  She actually wagged her tail and moved forward on the couch a little, the last time.  For Mimi, that was progress.  Now, Scott had his wisdom teeth out last week and has been laying low ever since, with completely no interest in fast food.  Mimi had become accustomed to going out for lunch at least once a week and I guess today she decided the drought had gone on long enough.   Seeing her trot happily out ahead of me, I called back to Scott, “I’ll take her with me”, since I just had one very quick stop to make to feed some cats nearby.  I opened the door to the car, called her and she jumped in!  On her own!  A victory in itself.  I immediately gave her a piece of jerky as her happy feet danced on the seat with anticipation.  On the way out the quarter mile long drive I rolled the window halfway down like usual, and for the very first time, Mimi’s nose was poked slightly over the edge of the glass.  She’s been too nervous to join all the other dogs in the joy of sniffing  the driveway scents, but today she did, both going and coming back.  It was a thoroughly uneventful trip, she was calm, but trembling (that’s an IG thing), and never tried to hide her head under my arm as she usually has before.  It’s such a small but wonderful step she took today, and I’m in a happy, hopeful glow about it.  Her progress had been so slow as to be minute, but she turned it on its head today.  Our little girl is going to grow up into a wonderful adult dog, I see that now.  It just takes time, patience and repetition.  

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Icy Here!

Finally got our first wintry precipitation for the 2012/2013 season, in the form of sleet yesterday.  It was a shorter burst than anticipated, which was probably a good thing.  When I drove out to do some dog-walking mid-afternoon there were already roll-overs, the black ice was amazing.  Thank goodness for our sturdy little old '95 Nissan 4 wheel drive truck!  Back here everyone coped with the storm in their particular ways.  Willow and the GGs seemed unperturbed, and Stacy thought it might be the day to debut her "goat riding a horse" act:
Stacy: Hannah, quick, give me a leg up!

There were lines at the bird feeders like I haven't seen since the gas shortages of the seventies.  Birds came to fisticuffs (wingicuffs?) and the odd feathers flew.
The big dogs could be found either in the carport in their snug little heated corner,
or inticing someone to go for a walk.  (sorry about the blurriness).
The Iggies were both double-blanketed in spite of having their heat-lamps to broil under, on the couches, Buglet looked like a tick--nothing but eyes and legs, but she wouldn't give up her favorite spider.
Pepper and Mimi just broiled under the heat-lamps like sausages at a convenience store.